Atlanta Workers Speak Up, Win Raises

by Namita Waghray  |  July 27, 2015

Atlanta Workers Speak Up, Win Raises AFSCME Local 1644 members were active in City Council speak-ins, and direct conversations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, reminding them of the vital services that city employees provide.

ATLANTA – The City Council voted overwhelmingly July 21 to approve a 3.5 percent pay increase for approximately 3,000 Atlanta city workers in public works, corrections, and parks and recreation, among other city services.

AFSCME Local 1644 members were active in City Council speak-ins, and direct conversations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, reminding them of the vital services that city employees provide.

“We make the city of Atlanta work, ensuring that the city is a clean, safe and enjoyable place to work and live in,” Local 1644 member Tracy Thornhill told the Council. “We deserve a pay raise that lets us know that the city and our community recognize our work.” 

Mayor Reed spoke up in favor of the pay raise. “The city of Atlanta is in the strongest financial position in more than a decade,” he said. “Because of this financial stability, our hard-working employees will take home a paycheck that reflects their contributions and accomplishments.”

The pay raise is retroactive to July 1, and members should receive the increase in their August paychecks.  The last significant pay raise occurred several years ago.


Jeb Bush: ‘Phase Out Medicare’

by Mark McCullough  |  July 27, 2015

Jeb Bush: ‘Phase Out Medicare’ AFSCME retiree Dave Jacobsen with Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

As Medicare celebrates its 50th anniversary July 30, the popular program continues to provide quality, affordable health care to seniors. It also is in its strongest fiscal shape in years thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

So why does Republican Presidential candidate JEB! Bush want to “phase out this program?” That’s what he proposed July 23 at an event sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he praised proposals by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Watch the video for yourself!

Retirees like Dave Jacobsen, president of the Northwest Florida AFSCME Retiree Subchapter 43, are scratching their heads trying to figure out what Bush is talking about.

“Costs are going up on almost everything, but we know that things would be much worse if we didn’t have Medicare to keep us healthy,” said Jacobsen, a former employee of Florida’s Department of Health. “Medicare is one of the most successfully run health programs in the history of the world and I appreciate President Johnson for signing the legislation 50 years ago.”

The former Florida governor appears to be completely out of touch – from saying people “need to work longer hours” if they want to earn enough to get by to misrepresenting President Obama’s proposals to expand overtime pay so severely that leading economists said he “should be embarrassed.” And this new Medicare statement only underscores his confusion.

“Medicare is a right earned by every American for a lifetime of hard work and I will organize every senior in north Florida to educate them on Bush’s Medicare proposals,” said Jacobsen. “We here remember too well how he ran our state into the ground as governor and we all know what his brother did to our country so we can’t let it happen again.”



Survey: Pope’s Economic Message Resonates Here

by Pablo Ros  |  July 24, 2015

Survey: Pope’s Economic Message Resonates Here An overwhelming majority of religiously affiliated U.S. voters agree with Pope Francis’s message on equality and economic justice, and that we must make changes so that “everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth.”

An overwhelming majority of religiously affiliated U.S. voters agree with Pope Francis’s message on equality and economic justice, including the Pope’s view that our economy is out of balance because of inequality and injustice, and that we must make changes so that “everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth.”

This finding is part of a recent survey among voters who describe themselves as religious that was conducted by Lake Research Partners ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States. The nationwide survey among likely 2016 voters, conducted on behalf of a coalition of labor unions and faith organizations, reveals that the Pope’s message of togetherness, community, inclusion and equality resonates with the American electorate.

“The Pope’s strong voice on these issues will likely prove catalytic to the conversation regarding a broader values debate and a family-friendly economic agenda,” wrote Celinda Lake and Joshua Ulibarri, of Lake Research Partners. “At a time when Americans are having incredibly important conversations around strengthening families, making the economy work for our families, and racism, among other issues, the Pope’s message rejects division and instead calls on Americans to embrace the values of inclusion, community and the Golden Rule (do unto others as we would have them do unto us).”

Religiously affiliated voters reject the prevailing economic view that “we are in this alone,” the survey found. Instead, these voters embrace the notion that “millions of struggling workers, seniors, the sick and the weak are NOT alone.” Furthermore, they agree with the Pope that “we must act in terms of community,” and they support an agenda that creates a family-friendly economy.

More specifically, 87 percent of survey respondents support guaranteeing earned paid sick time for recovery from injury or illness, or to help a family member recover; 80 percent support making major investments in children and poverty that include early education and child health care, even if it means increasing their taxes; and 62 percent support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to help workers sustain their families.

A full 84 percent agreed with this message: “Our economy is tough on our families, from wages, to hours, to discrimination…. We need to fight for work, and for dignified work. If people work hard, they ought to earn enough to sustain their families. We can change our community for the better so that the economic system values people over profits.”

And 79 percent agreed with this: “There is so much inequality and injustice that our economy is out of balance. Too few people benefit from the wealth in our society…. We need to change our economy so that everyone benefits from the fruits of the Earth and we promote fairness and dignity for everyone.”

The Pope’s visit to the United States is likely to focus attention on many of these issues, which are part of a long overdue national conversation.

Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin

by David Patterson  |  July 24, 2015

Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin In 2010, Wisconsin’s Dept. of Corrections boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits. Act 10 changed everything.

In 2010, Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits.

Then came Governor Walker’s Act 10. The law stripped COs and all state employees of the ability to bargain with management over wages and benefits.

Today, Wisconsin’s DOC is desperate. It faces record retirements, more than 400 vacancies to fill, forced overtime, record overtime costs of $9.3 million and nearly $12 million in sick time costs. As a result, Wisconsin communities are less safe today.

“For the DOC and for COs, the situation is bad and getting worse,” said Mike Fox, interim executive director of AFSCME Council 32, which represents corrections officers. “Vacancies are growing, and the state can't hire replacements fast enough to keep up.”

Before passage of Act 10, having a strong voice on the job kept morale and professional pride high. An employee survey conducted by the DOC last year found 82 percent cited ‘staff morale’ as the most pressing issue. Some 52 percent raised a red flag about staff retention and 45 percent cited staff safety and wellness as a most pressing issue.

Pay for state COs has fallen sharply and employee costs for benefits keep going up. Neighboring states and many county jails are paying better than the state of Wisconsin.

Iowa’s starting wage is $18.02. In Illinois, the trainee salary is $20.57 an hour. COs in both states have a union contract. In Wisconsin, a CO’s starting pay is $15.34 an hour. Starting pay in Wisconsin’s Brown County jail is $19.11 and $21.18 an hour in Outagamie County.

In 2010, there were only 88 CO vacancies across 21 adult correction facilities in Wisconsin. Now there’s five times that number. These jobs are no longer considered careers for well-trained corrections professionals and are treated as a stepping-stone job until they can find something better, according to Fox.

“Low salaries, dangerously short-staffed prisons, fewer experienced correctional officers, more inexperienced recruits, short-staffing, low morale and mandatory overtime are not the ingredients to attract and sustain a qualified workforce,” said Fox. “Or for a safe and effective prison system that protects Wisconsin’s communities.”

Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC

by Kevin Brown and Eli Magana  |  July 23, 2015

Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC Pictured: Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes, Delores Huerta, Bao Nguyen (Mayor of Garden Grove, California), Tefere Gebre (Executive VP, AFL-CIO), Doug Moore (Exec. Dir.) and Johanna Hester (Special Asst. to the ED) of UDW - and thousands of others.

SAN DIEGO – Thousands marched against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during the opening day of its annual meeting. It was one of the largest protests ever against the right-wing organization, featuring elected officials, workers, community activists, faith-based leaders and other progressives.

“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” said Jesse Torres, a home care provider with AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers (UDW).

ALEC is a corporate-funded group of nearly 2,000 extremist state lawmakers who use ALEC’s cookie-cutter approach to draft legislation that weakens unions, throws up roadblocks to voting and promotes “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.

The annual ALEC conference brings together hundreds of corporate lobbyists and wealthy funders from around the country to wine and dine the lawmakers. Legislators are promised hefty contributions in exchange for support of state laws that weaken worker and environmental protections, eviscerate public education and punish immigrant families.

“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty, and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!” added Torres.

Other speakers included Yessika Magdaleno, a child care provider from Orange County who is part of a statewide coalition campaigning to pass legislation aimed at improving California’s child care system by giving working women and providers a greater voice and collective bargaining rights.

"ALEC's anti-worker agenda harms our workforce, which is mostly women, as well as the hardworking families who depend on us to care for their children,” Magdaleno said. “Let’s continue to work together toward a quality child care program in California – because unlike ALEC, we support hardworking families, and women!"

After listening to community and labor activists decry ALEC’s negative impact on middle-class families, the massive crowd marched to the doorstep of the conference to ensure their message was heard.

Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court

July 23, 2015

Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes.

If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, undermining the ability of public sector workers to band together on the job, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes in his Washington Post column July 22.

In June, the Supreme Court decided to hear the Friedrichs case, which seeks to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that strengthened the ability of nurses, librarians, corrections officers and other public service workers to have a say at work.

Meyerson, also the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, said a ruling to overturn the long standing precedent could “create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats. Such a ruling would be worse than the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which essentially decided only the one election, and “could decide elections for years to come.”

For public service workers though, the case is about much more than politics. “If my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels,” said AFSCME member Kelly Druskis-Abreu, a mental health worker from Worcester, Massachusetts. “This is about all of us.”


VIDEO: Bad Bosses Working Overtime

by Michael Byrne  |  July 23, 2015

Jeb Bush says we need to work longer hours. Scott Walker says the minimum wage is “lame” and signed a budget that eliminates the weekend. Marco Rubio says we need to run the country according to what business says it needs. Donald Trump says … well, “you’re fired!”

AFSCME’s new video puts these bad-boss ideas promoted by candidates for President into the context of bad bosses we know and hate in modern culture. Why are these rich politicians picking on American workers anyway?

The reality is that Americans work more hours than any other workers on earth. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

In fact, the Gallop Poll last year found that the average workweek for salaried and wage-earners is now 47 hours, well beyond the 40-hour workweek proscribed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that employers pay overtime for work beyond 40 hours.

Employers have managed to get around the overtime provisions by paying set weekly salaries, instead of hourly wages, since only salaried workers earning less than $23,660 a year qualify for overtime under the current FLSA rule. That standard is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime, compared with 65 percent of salaried workers who qualified in 1975.

President Obama proposed a rule change that would raise the limit on overtime pay to $50,440, which would cover 11 million more salaried workers now being forced to work beyond 40 hours without overtime pay. It’s a long overdue change that will put more money into the hands of working families and, thus, improve the U.S. economy.

Naturally, we can expect a fight from all the bad bosses out there doubling as Presidential candidates. But you can weigh in on the side of workplace justice. Let the Department of Labor know that you support the rule change by clicking this link to send a message.

Send a message to the bad bosses: We work hard for the money. Pay up!

Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members

by Namita Waghray  |  July 21, 2015

Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members New member Amimbda Ajayi: “Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

PALESTINE, Texas - With two major legislative wins under its belt, AFSCME Texas Corrections Employees launched a full-scale organizing campaign across the state.  Ten different locals are involved in the campaign, along with AFSCME International organizers. 

Recently, corrections officers and employees received one of the largest pay increases in Texas Corrections history.  This victory, combined with members’ ability to push back a payroll deductions bill during the legislative session, has many nonunion workers sitting up and taking notice. AFSCME’s Texas Corrections Employees gained more than 1,000 new dues-paying members between January and May of this year. The legislative session ended June 1. 

The organizing blitz to build membership started on July 10 and will run through July 27.  Targeted areas include Gatesville, Palestine, Angleton, Abilene and Lubbock.  In just three days, activists have signed up nearly 50 new members and had more than 120 one-on-one conversations, identifying the concerns of corrections employees.

Corrections Officer Amimbda Ajayi joined the union and signed up as an AFSCME PEOPLE MVP because “the union is about people coming together,” she said.  “It’s a group thing.  We can do it together. Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

Richard Salazar, president of Local 3806, said the organizing success shows what can be accomplished with one-on-one conversations. “I know that people want to get involved,” he said. “They just need that extra push. Having someone stop by and have a personal conversation may be all someone needs to commit to being a union member.”

Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter

by AFSCME Council 93  |  July 21, 2015

Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter HowardCenter workers - members of AFSCME Local 1674 - walked picket lines for a better contract in April.

More than 13 months of intensive contract negotiations has yielded a lucrative new contract for AFSCME members working at Vermont's HowardCenter, a nonprofit social services organization. Members of Local 1674 voted overwhelmingly June 30 to ratify the contract, paving the way for long overdue pay increases for the workers.

"It's heartening to know that the wages of our members at the HowardCenter are finally beginning to match the quality of the critical services they provide," said AFSCME Council 93 Exec. Dir. Frank Moroney, also an AFSCME International vice president. "These skilled and dedicated workers work hard every day to provide quality care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. We're pleased we were able to bring them this long-overdue recognition and we look forward to continuing to build the strength and power of Local 1674." 

Under the new agreement, current employees who were employed at the HowardCenter on or after Nov. 1, 2013, will receive a 2 percent increase to their base salary. In addition, workers will receive a 2.6 percent retroactive increase for the period Aug 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. They also received an additional 2 percent increase, effective July 1.

Some staff will receive additional pay increases or bonuses, depending on licenses they hold, the shifts they work, the length of time they've worked at the center, and other factors. In addition, workers who use their automobiles for their jobs will now also receive reimbursement at the non-taxable per mile rate set annually by the IRS.

The road to the contract agreement was long and difficult and included several demonstrations aimed at calling attention to the extremely low wages paid to the workers. The union also organized a public informational forum at Burlington City Hall that drew more than 150 supporters and was attended by Moroney and AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

After months of pressure, the union also received the backing of Burlington City Councilors who passed a nonbinding resolution in May urging the Howard Center to pay workers a living wage. These and other efforts were bolstered by a Council 93 paid radio advertising campaign and other media relations strategies.

Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong

by Kevin Brown  |  July 21, 2015

Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong AFSCME Local 2384 Pres. Luis Schmidt (left) and Local 2960 Pres. Frank Piccioli at the AFSCME-sponsored panel at Netroots Nation.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Netroots Nation, the annual political conference for progressive bloggers, newsmakers and activists from across the country, assembled here July 16-19, AFSCME used the opportunity to share strategies and introduce AFSCME Strong

An AFSCME-sponsored panel on unions as the answer to the problem of income inequality attracted a passionate crowd eager to hear how labor will organize a winning movement in the face of corporate-funded attacks. Seema Nanda, an assistant to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, opened the discussion by declaring, “The labor movement is one of the last counter-balances to a system that corporate interests have rigged against working families, in favor of the rich.”

The panel also included: Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Naomi Walker, assistant to the president of AFSCME; and Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960.

Piccioli reflected on the impact unions played on his family. “When my father suffered second- and third-degree burns, it was our union that had our backs,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be without the continued support and benefits unions bargain for — for all workers.”

Walker told conference participants about AFSCME Strong, the intensive campaign to strengthen our union by engaging members in one-on-one conversations about our future.  

“AFSCME members are going on the offensive,” Walker said. “We’re facing down attacks from corporate-funded politicians with renewed grassroots energy from our membership. The renewed activism in our union is already creating results. AFSCME has organized over 140,000 new members since last year — even in right-to-work states.” 

Among the speakers were Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The presidential town hall featuring O’Malley and Sanders was interrupted by civil rights activists intent on bringing national attention to the issues of racial inequality and law enforcement treatment of the black population.

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